Body positivity is for everyone, but every movement has its leaders. We always appreciate the models, designers, celebrities, and advertisers who make it a point to embrace women at every shape, color, and size. Things do not get done without them! However, we would totally be missing out if we did not take the opportunity to celebrate those women who do great work across social media to celebrate themselves and others, just the way they are.
If you consider yourself to be a body-positive person, it is highly likely that you have come across Gina of Nourish and Eat on Instagram. She is a warrior in every sense of the word, and countless women have been inspired by her work. We absolutely love her and everything for which she stands. Naturally, we were beyond excited to have a chat with her and get her opinion on all things BoPo.
Gina, if you had to describe the body-struggles women have to endure from the media in one word, what would it be and why?
Deceptive. Women are constantly taught that their bodies aren’t good enough, and that in order to be attractive and valued, they need to conform to the images we see in the media. But those images aren’t real! They’re photoshopped and filtered and tweaked and distorted. We see it in adverts and on social media. They’re so far beyond what is actually attainable, that women and girls are literally killing themselves in their attempt to achieve that “perfect body.”
Absolutely. One of our editors is an ED survivor; we are actually watching women end their lives early trying to fit an ideal that is not possible without harming themselves. We need for the world to see what women really look like. What do you think is the driving force behind the body-positive movement? Do you think that force is flexible?
I think we’re seeing more and more examples of strong, confident women who are sick of putting up with unrealistic beauty ideals. Pioneering BoPo Warriors like Virgie Tovar, Jes Baker, Whitney Way Thore, and so many others who fight fat-phobia and diet culture on a daily basis, and women on instagram like Megan Jayne (@bodyposipanda) and Danielle (@chooselifewarrior) and Amalie Lee (@amalielee) showing us that recovery from an eating disorder is not only possible, but looks different on every body.
Unfortunately I see a lot of brands now jumping on the BoPo bandwagon because they believe it’s a trend, or one that can increase their consumer base, and that makes me so sad to see companies ignoring the real issue, and merely changing the way they cash in on women’s insecurities.
Beyond frustrating. Totally understanding needing to sell a product, but it is painful to see brands go from embracing “everyone” to heading back to their previous advertisements. We have a lot of reteaching to do in terms of advertisements. How do we teach people to be concerned with their health without making them ashamed of their bodies?
I think there’s a fine line there. What do you think of, when you think “healthy?” Almost always, it’s not a sense of wellness, but a specific, narrowly defined body type: thin, and toned — and, if you look at any fitness magazine today, complete with beautiful model-like faces and a perfectly filled out sports bra. But how do we know those bodies are healthy? Because they’re thin? Professional models have gone on record to say that they literally starve themselves before shoots or shows – is that healthy? No. Are people healthy because they have a lot of muscle definition? Think about competitive bodybuilders: the things they do to their bodies sometimes do infinitely more harm than good. That’s not to say that all bodybuilders or models are unhealthy, but the fact is, we cannot tell that someone is healthy merely by looking at them. Someone who’s a size 12 and runs twice a week can easily be healthier than someone who’s a size 2 who doesn’t exercise at all – but our immediate assumption is that the smaller person is healthier, which really is ridiculous if you think about it.
Society tells us, “love your body – but not the way it is.” We’re taught that if your body doesn’t match the societal ideal, you should be actively trying to change it. We want overweight people to justify their bodies by saying, “I’m trying to get healthier,” which is supposed to mean “I’m trying to get thinner.” And if someone actually embraces their (larger) body, they’re “promoting obesity.” That doesn’t mean that people aren’t allowed to want to lose weight – they are! But the real question you need to ask yourself is this: does your self worth depend on the size and shape of your body? Because if that’s the case, losing weight will never bring you the peace you’re looking for.
So, to answer your question, how do we teach people to be concerned with their health while still loving their bodies? Redefine health. Stop focusing on your body size so much. Go outside. Get fresh air. Take a walk. Do something that gets you moving. Do something that fills you with joy. Dance. Go out with friends, or stay in and practice some self care. Eat nutritious foods, but also eat some ice cream or chocolate. Stop buying into the idea that certain foods are good or bad, and instead eat in moderation. Look at yourself in the mirror every day and honor all the things your body has done for you, and all the reasons you are so much more than your outer packaging. The more you practice taking care of your entire SELF, the healthier you will be.
There is nothing we could agree with more. That redefinition can happen, but we have to change the way health is measured rather than such a focus on being “toned.” Why do you think we focus so much on physical fitness rather than wellness as a whole?
People have a hard time accepting ideas not supported by numbers. BMIs. Clothing sizes. Things that can be measured are easy. The idea that wellness and happiness and beauty are things so varied and different and unique to each individual is difficult for many people to accept, let alone figure out.
The accuracy. With that in mind, what’s your take on women using fitfluencers as body goals?
I think there can be “fitfluencers” who genuinely love and take care of their bodies, and maintain a healthy relationship with exercise. Take Iskra for example: how many times do people comment “body goals” on her photos? She’s super fit and shares her passion for exercise, but we also know that she’s a major advocate for loving your body no matter what shape it’s in, breaking down unrealistic beauty ideals, and just focusing on being the best version of yourself.
For these “fitfluencers,” we need to take a close look at how they treat themselves and how they talk about their (and other people’s) bodies. Do they make fat-shaming or body-insensitive comments? Do they talk about exercise in an unhealthy way (ie, ‘working off’ meals, using exercise as a punishment, etc)? Do they promote a well-rounded lifestyle, or one that’s strict with little to no variety? Pay attention to these things.
Respect of self and others, no matter what they look like. Sounds easy, but so many people don’t do it. How do you deal with people who don’t respect your body?
Over the years, I’ve learned to recognize that other people’s opinion of my body do not determine my own self worth. I remind myself that when someone comments negatively on my body, it’s coming from a place of insecurity on their part. But I also know that I benefit from privileges that many of my peers in the BoPo community do not – I wear straight sized clothes and my body fits the current societal ideal (thin, white). I haven’t had to deal with the kind of prejudice and discrimination that so many others have.
The insecurity is real, but it can be combatted with some serious self-love and education. Speaking of, how’d you come up with #embracethesquish?
It was just the way I would think about my body rolls! They were my squishy parts. And one day I created the hashtag on one of my posts, and I got such a great response to it that I kept it going! And now I see so many other people using and loving it, embracing their squish! It’s a great feeling.
Trendsetter. We aren’t stunned. But all trends aren’t so great for the BoPo community. How do you feel about bodies as trends?
There have always been body trends! Ancient Egyptians loved a small, lean body, while the Renaissance preferred full curvy hips and a voluptuous shape; Victorians introduced the corset with a soft shapely body and then the 1920s shifted to a boyish, straight figure. I don’t think we’ll ever get to a place where one body type isn’t preferred over another. That’s just the way humans are. But I think what’s more important is that we also celebrate the body types not in fashion. The people who naturally have those “trendy” bodies usually represent such a small percentage of the population — we need to encourage people to not only love the bodies they have, but remember that the shape of their bodies is such a small part of what makes them THEM.
Always the most important. Last one for you – what do you see as the next big step towards reclamation of women’s bodies as their own?
I would love to see more ethnicities, religions, and body types represented in the media. I’d love to turn on the TV or open a magazine or go to the movies and see a dark-skinned black girl, or a non-hourglass shaped curvy girl, or a Muslim girl in a hijab. Representation is everything. Girls today are growing up believing that if they’re not thin, white, and conventionally beautiful, they don’t have value. I think the next step is showing this generation (and all generations) that every body is beautiful.
I love what Aerie is doing, in eliminating the photoshopping and retouching of their models, and using girls of different shapes and sizes in their ads. I think that’s a wonderful thing and something that can influence other companies to do the same – hopefully more brands will follow suit!